Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Penguins

8142222866_2f95541829_c

Stambaugh Stadium, Youngstown State. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

The athletic teams at Youngstown State are the only collegiate team in the country whose nickname and mascots are Penguins. It’s an odd name for a team from Youngstown. Another area team’s name, The Scrappers, fits. But Penguins? Wherever did this come from?

It turns out that there are two versions of the story, both coming from the same basketball game in 1933–yes, the name goes that far back. Before then, Youngstown College, as it was then known, was called “Y College,” “YoCo,” “Wye Collegians,” or simply
“The Locals.” On the snowy evening of January 30, 1933, the YSU basketball team drove to West Liberty State Teachers College in West Virginia for a game, pulling their cars out of snow drifts on two occasions.

One version of the story has players coming up with the name in one of the cars during the trip. This had been a topic of conversation throughout that school year.

The more popular one, that I always heard, was that when the team arrived, to warm up they were stomping their feet and waving their arms, either in windmills to warm up for the game or just flapping their arms around. Whatever the case (and accounts differ here) the opposing team coach remarked that they “looked like a bunch of penguins.”

When the players returned, the student body unanimously accepted the name. It was announced formally in The Jambar in the December 15, 1933 issue before the first basketball game of the season against Slippery Rock.

There have been three live “Pete the Penguins” during the history of Youngstown. The first was brought back from Antarctica in 1939 and died in 1941, pursuing fish under the ice at Crandall Park pond. A second Pete, along with Patricia, his mate, were purchased shortly after, but died in 1942 of tuberculosis. The last Pete was acquired in 1968 and died in 1972–my freshman year, an event that seemed insignificant amid concerns about the Vietnam war and the re-election of Richard Nixon, and the pathetic football teams of that era under Dike Beede.

910 Airmen celebrate AF 60th b-day at YSU home opener

Pete and Penny Penguin, modified from a U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.

The first student mascot, later revealed to be Vic Rubenstein, was chosen in 1964. His costume was a penguin head and a tuxedo he rented himself each weekend from Rondinelli Tuxedos. Rubenstein, who was a managing editor of The Jambar, only revealed his identity after the last game of 1965. Eventually there was the costume we know today. Then, in 1986 Pete was joined by Penny, who were married in a ceremony. Most mascots are bachelors (think Brutus Buckeye) so in this respect Youngstown State is also quite unique.

In 2004 penguin statues were decorated by local artist and placed around the Youngstown community and on campus. One was decorated to look like John Young, another to commemorate Ohio presidents. A number can be seen in locations in downtown Youngstown, at Southern Park Mall, and a number around campus, including one at University Plaza, greeting visitors to the university.

Youngstown State Penguin Statue

Penguin Statue at University Plaza. Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

I think most students of my era just thought it kind of odd. We would probably have laughed and mocked the idea of “fighting Penguins.” The change came in the Jim Tressel era of championship football teams where logos, and sports memorabilia and mascots became a much bigger thing. Now Pete and Penny are beloved symbols and “fighting Pete” adorns a gift we received, a set of Wendell August Forge coasters, and matching sweatshirts. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few “Penguins” around your house as well. As we say when we root for our Youngstown teams, Go Guins!

Sources:

Archives & Special Collections: History of YSU

Pete and Penny Penguin Mascots, YSU Sports

Premier Penguin, The Jambar, October 21, 2013.

Marah Morrison, The Story and Significance of Penguin StatuesThe Jambar, January 11, 2018.

.

Reading Reflections: Advent by Fleming Rutledge — One

Advent

During Lent this year, I read The Crucifixion by Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. It was one of the richest books of theology I’ve read in the past ten years, and so I purchased a copy of AdventThat time has come and I’ve begun reading this book (not quite as long) as I await the celebration of Christ’s coming, and anticipate his return. I thought I’d share reflections as well as a review, partly to let you know as soon as possible about this book so you might be able to join me in reading during this season of Advent. Like The Crucifixion, there is such a rich feast of thought that a single review cannot do it justice!

This book is unlike The Crucifixion in consisting of a compilation of writings and sermons on Advent themes from throughout Rutledge’s ministry, given in or written for a number of different settings. The sermons have been grouped around Pre-Advent Themes, the four Sundays of Advent, concluding with a Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent. The writings and sermons are preceded by an introduction that frames the collection theologically.

This reflection covers the several sections of the book, up through page 158. Several things have been striking so far. One is the focus on the Advent as the season of the second coming. Most of us focus on the anticipation of the birth of the incarnate Lord, celebrating this first coming in all that it means for our redemption. Rutledge observes that the liturgical focus of the readings in all but the last Sunday is on the second coming of Jesus. This is what truly makes it a season of waiting. She observes:

Because the church in modern times has turned away from the proclamation of the second coming, an intentional effort must be made to reinstate it. Related to the second coming, which Jesus repeatedly says will come by God’s decision at an hour we do not expect, is the Advent emphasis on the agency of God, as contrasted with the “works” of human beings.

In another sermon she describes the tension of a passage in 2 Peter of “waiting and hastening the coming of the day of the Lord” and describes hastening as “action in waiting.” Yes, we act in the hope and anticipation of that day, but always from a posture of waiting, knowing that the Lord will return in his time on his terms.

Advent is not all sweetness and light for Rutledge. It is light into the darkness, the revealing of the line of good and evil that runs through each of us and the resistance against the Evil One, a reminder of the battleground we inhabit between the first and second Advents of Jesus.

In another sermon, Rutledge reminds us of King Hussein of Jordan, who shortly before his death, visited families of Israelis killed in an Arab terrorist bombing, simply sitting with the bereaved. Then she turns to the late Princess Diana visiting an Angolan hospital ward filled with disfigured and suffering patients coming alongside and caressing patients. Rutledge observes in each, “majesty stooped,” and that this is what we remember in Advent. The focus on the second Advent with Christ’s kingly return stands in contrast with the incarnate, helpless and vulnerable babe, who grew lived, and died for our redemption. In Christ, majesty stooped, and it truly is a wonder to behold as it was with King Hussein and Princess Diana.

This is but a taste of the rich material in the opening pages of this book. I would mention that my favorite bookseller, Hearts and Minds currently offers this and a number of other Advent books at a 20% discount. Wherever you buy or borrow this book, I hope you will have the chance to spend time in it, whether this Advent or in a future year.

 

Overwhelmed with Booklists?

Booklists2An hazard of being a bibliophile is being overwhelmed with booklists. I confessing to contributing to this feeling for those who follow my blog and social media. This time of the year is the best, or worst, depending on your perspective, as a number of outlets publish their “best of the year” lists. In the next weeks, I’ll be doing this myself. And I’ll be posting others.

Today, I came across a most impressive list–all the books NPR has reviewed since 2013, organized as NPR’s Book Concierge, which is quite elegant as a book site. The list is tabbed by years, with access to their reviews by cover images or lists. You can search by your favorite genre. In all, there are over 2,000 reviews.

So how do I avoid being overwhelmed? Here are some things I find helpful:

  1. I pay attention to what sparks curiosity or interest. It might be a favorite author, or a cover, or a subject I’m interested in.
  2. I notice books that keep coming up in genres I’m interested in.
  3. I look for lists in subjects I’m interested in. I like Five Books because they post five books by an informed expert on a variety of subjects. Some awards, like the Hugo Awards (science fiction and fantasy) are genre specific.
  4. I read a number of religious books, and Christianity Today’s Book Awards each year is one list I pay attention to. If there is a topical area you are interested in, finding out what the flagship publication in that area is, and learning if they publish a list of books helps.
  5. Some of the most famous lists also reflect a particular literary culture. If you like the reviews you see in a particular outlet, the list may be helpful. If you tend to check out when you read the reviews, the list might not do much for you either. I don’t feel compelled to read what the literati think I should read.
  6. On the other hand, some lists may be useful if you want to branch out and read in an area different from what you usually read. For example, if you want to read more books by international authors, searching international book award lists may be helpful. Wikipedia, has a great list of these.
  7. Often, these lists have a latent effect on me. I may notice a book, perhaps multiple times and move on. Then I come across the book in a book store, and it just seems the right moment to pick it up.
  8. A special form of booklist is a bibliography, usually in more academic books. Sometimes, when I’m researching a topic, there will be a reference to another book, sometimes multiple ones, that tell me that the referenced book is really the one to read on the topic.
  9. Some of the best book lists come from other bloggers who are readers. One from the Modern Mrs. Darcy site is a compilation of 52 lists this blogger has posted over the years.
  10. Finally, when I’m tempted to become overwhelmed and shriek “so many books; so little time,” it helps to remember that most books are actually meant for others, and that the joy of perusing lists is looking for that book that was meant for you.

For me, the “Best Books” lists are my adult equivalent to the release of the Sears Christmas catalog, the “Wish Book,” when I was kid and I could leaf through the pages and make my Christmas wish list. Those are long gone. We bibliophiles are more fortunate. I suspect these lists will be around as long as there are books.

Facebook, I’d Really Like To Be Transparent

_1 Bob on Books - Home (3)

Screen capture of Page Transparency information for my non-business page.

To be a Facebook user means navigating a continually changing platform with regard to privacy settings, newsfeed preferences, and connections with other social media. Then there have been the privacy breaches, like that with Cambridge Analytics. I know some who have become so frustrated with Facebook that they have thrown in the towel.

That has not been my experience, but I’ve tried to keep up on the changes, recognizing that for me, this is a free service that has fostered good connections with friends and new connections with people who share common interests, as well as serving as a platform to promote events and other causes of interest. I’ve no plans to close my account any time soon.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have my bones to pick. Here is one I’ve become aware of lately: Facebook Page Ownership is only possible for verified businesses.

Here’s the deal. In the summer of 2018, those of us who have connected blogs to Facebook learned that we can no longer connect them to a profile. We must connect them to a page. So I created a Facebook page, Bob on Books, matching the name of my blog. That has been an unexpectedly delightful process. Just the other day, the page went over 5,000 “likes,” far more than my current number of friends. I post my blog, humor, and curate articles and images from across the web as well as a “question of the day,” and apart from a few controversial topics, we’ve had fascinating conversations about our common love of books.

I try to be diligent as a page admin, removing derogatory comments and profanity from the page, and watching for any sign of abusive treatment of other members. If one visits “Page Quality” for my page, you see this message: “Your Page has no restrictions or violations.” That’s kind of a negative way of putting it–it would be nice if there were positive statements like “this Page meets or exceeds Facebook community standards”–but I have a green rating.

Recently, Facebook has upped its efforts to foster “page transparency.” I’ve received messages about confirming business ownership for the page as part of the transparency information visitors can see. For actual businesses and political organizations, this is a good thing, so page visitors know who they are really doing business with, particularly if a product or a candidate is being promoted. We don’t want to get “faked” out, so this is a good step.

The problem for me is that Bob on Books is not a business. I don’t sell anything. I am not advocating for a politician or political position. All I’m doing is creating a space where people can talk about all things book-ish, and have fun doing it. No dues, no admission. Just show up. I cannot go through a business verification process, because there is no business to verify. There is just me. I’m listed as page admin and people can go to my Facebook profile and learn about me if they wish.

But on the Page Transparency information for Bob on Books, you see the message in the screen capture above: “A page owner hasn’t yet completed business verification process.” It makes it sound like the page is less than fully transparent. But there is no way I can do this short of creating a business that can be verified, which I have no interest in doing. This is a hobby, a labor of love. I already have a job, but all of this is separate from my work.

I’ve tried to communicate this to Facebook but have received no response. My only recourse at this point is to include the following in a “pinned post” on my page:

Page Disclaimer: I post material I think will be interesting for this page. No endorsement or agreement is implied. Nor does anything posted here reflect the views of any organization with which I am associated, including my employer. There is no Page Owner listed for this page because it is not connected with any business nor does it try to sell you anything. Bob Trube manages this page and curates all content and comments.

It feels to me that Facebook wants me to be a business so I will buy services from them including advertising. I wonder if Facebook sees my page as social media or business media. I feel like I’m kind of second class, because there is no comparable verification process for pages that are not businesses.

For now, it hasn’t seemed to matter. There is a good deal of traffic on the page, and a growing number of “likes” every day. It’s actually far more than I thought it might be. My only hope is that the page will not be “downgraded” because I cannot complete a business verification process. I suspect there are a number of others in a similar position. Many of us work hard to adhere to Facebook community standards and create good spaces. I’ve had people write that if it weren’t for Bob on Books, they would have closed their Facebook accounts. Facebook might be a better place if they positively recognized good pages and groups, rather than sending negatively framed compliance messages. At very least, I would advocate a comparable verification process for pages owned by individuals, not businesses.

Facebook, I “like” you. I hope you will “like” me as well.

Review: Divine Impassibility

Divine Impassibility

Divine Impassibility (Spectrum Multiview Books), Edited by Robert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill. Contributions by Daniel Castelo, James E. Dolezal, Thomas Jay Oord, and John C. Peckham. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A discussion of God’s experience of emotions and the possibility of God suffering with views ranging from one of God not changing or experiencing emotion to God, while not changing in nature, is in relation with his creatures and experiences emotions and suffering in those relationships.

Doesn’t God hear our cries and feel the pain his people suffer? Many of us would say, “of course,” not realizing that many throughout church history may have differed with us. The assertion is that God is impassible, which means that God is not able to suffer or experience pain or pleasure from the acts of others. One may wonder, “why would anyone believe that?” There are actually good reasons. If we believe that God is self-existent, and not dependent upon anything else in the universe for God’s existence, then the possibility that the acts or suffering of others could affect God would seem to jeopardize the idea of God’s self-existence in recognizing the possibility that other beings may influence or change God in some way.

In this work, a spectrum of four views are considered: strong impassibility (James E Dolezal), qualified impassibility (Daniel Castelo), qualified passibility (John C. Peckham), and strong passibility (Thomas Jay Oord). Each proponent sets forth the basic ideas of their particular view and arguments that support, the other three respond from their perspective, and the proponent makes a final response.

One of the most helpful aspects of this book are the four questions the editors ask each person to respond to. These are:

  1. To what extent is God’s emotional life analogous (similar and dissimilar) to the human emotional life?
  2. Are God’s nature, will, and knowledge passible, and to what extent?
  3. Do the incarnation and passion of Jesus Christ necessitate passibility?
  4. Does human activity (such as prayer) occasion an emotive/volitional response from God?

The introduction to the book provides a chart with summary answers to each question, showing in brief the places where the four views agree and differ. Basically, the strong impassible position would answer all of these “no,” while the strong passible position would answer all of these yes.

The qualified positions would answer “no” in some cases, a qualified “yes” or “yes” in others, and hence “qualified.” One thing that separates the qualified impassible from the qualified passible is the question of “are God’s nature, will, and knowledge passible, and to what extent. The qualified impassible would say only God’s nature is passible, and that only to the extent God allows. The qualified passible would say both God’s nature and will are passible, but not God’s knowledge–that God is voluntarily passible in relation to the world. They also differ on whether and to what extent the human and divine natures of Christ are passible. The qualified impassible would say this is so only temporarily during the incarnation in the context of an impassible God. The qualified passible would say the incarnation reveals both a passible Christ in both natures and a passible God. They would also differ as to whether God is affected by prayer, no, for the qualified impassible along with the strong impassible, yes for the qualified passible along with the strong passible.

It is thus harder to distinguish the qualified positions from each other, while the differences between the “strong” positions are clear. The strong impassible position seems most shaped by extra-biblical theological categories–God’s self-existence and actuality, and the logic of these means a refusal to take passages that speak of God’s emotions, or God “changing” in response to human acts or pleas at face value. For others, definitional issues and how language is used seems important, and I found myself wondering how this might be worked out if not framed in an impassibility/passibility binary, or dividing God into nature, will, and knowledge as if these are not part of an integral whole.

It does helpfully press the ways in which Creator and creatures are like and unlike. It seems critically important to ask how we are like and unlike God rather than the reverse, which we often do. But this begs the question of both relational and emotional capacities. If our capacities in this regard reflect (albeit in fallen ways) what it is like to be in the image of God, they must find their source in something in the nature of God. How then does a strongly impassible God create passible creatures?

This work is valuable in thinking through our thoughts of God and his relation to his world beyond our sentiments. The thoughtful and yet respectful responses of the participants model good dialogue practices one wishes were more widely evident among Christians who differ. They also respect each other’s commitment to orthodoxy and a high view of scripture. For both the content and the character of the discussion, this book is worth a read.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: A Life of Listening

a life of listening

A Life of ListeningLeighton Ford. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: A memoir in which Ford sums up his life as one of listening for God’s voice, and the unique voice of his own he discovered as he did so.

I have been listening to Leighton Ford most of my life. As a young boy, I heard him preach on The Hour of Decision on occasions when Billy Graham was not on the broadcast. As a college student, I participated as a counselor in a crusade he led in Youngstown. Even then, his voice was different from Billy Graham, quieter, rich with cultural and spiritual insight. I was moved by his account of the death of his son Sandy, a parent’s worst nightmare, and how he went on with God afterward. I saw a turn in his ministry as he focused on leadership and found his book Transforming Leadership deeply helpful as a rising leader. Much later, as I found myself giving increasing attention to the inner journey, his book, The Attentive Life, captured for me what seems the connecting point between those who love God and love learning, the practice of attentiveness. Now, as I think of this question of what it means to finish well in Christ, comes this memoir, in which Ford looks back and sums up a journey of listening to God.

In the Introduction to the book, he describes his youthful response to the call of Jesus after listening to a retired missionary and a college student speak of Jesus:

   I was five then. Now, eighty plus years later, I can barely recall the voices and face of that missionary lady and that college student, but I know that through them I heard another Voice calling me, a voice I have been listening for ever since. So I write my listening story not because it is a perfect story or one to emulate but as a testament to the power of listening for the voice of my Lord.

The narrative traces this listening story from the early years as the adopted son of Charles and Olive Ford. Olive was the one who first taught him to read scripture and pray and took him to the Keswick conference where he responded to the voice of Jesus. He describes his teen years as he struggles to differentiate the voice of Jesus from Olive’s strong, controlling, and protective voice. He narrates his first encounter with Billy Graham at a Youth for Christ rally he had organized, and how, amid discouraging results, Graham encouraged him, encouraging his own response to the growing sense of God’s call to preach.

Graham also told his sister Jean about Leighton, and when they went to Wheaton, they eventually began dating, and in a decisive break with Olive, who disapproved, married Jean. The following years were one’s under Graham’s mentorship, first as an associate accompanying him and sharing some of the preaching, and then forming his own team and booking his own crusades as part of the Graham organization.

He describes the shift in his own ministry as he increasingly included social advocacy and outreach in his crusades, began discovering his inner life as he wrestled with depression,  and met his birth mother and understood more deeply the pulls in his life between the sense of loss and longing represented in his birth mother, and the impulse to separate Olive’s voice from the voice that was calling him. Then came the devastating death of his son Sandy, and the discovery of “places in our hearts we don’t even know are there until our hearts are broken.” His preaching was changing, and it became apparent, first to Billy Graham, and then him, that it was time to part ways organizationally, a move that actually deepened their friendship, and collaboration on things such as the Lausanne Consultation on World Evangelization.

The last part of the book covers the period from his fifties until the present as he embarks on what Susan Howatch called “the second journey.”  He learns both to listen more deeply for the Lord’s voice and to find his own. He recounts the several year journey to developing a new ministry focus on developing rising leaders and evangelists. His last chapters explore the anamcharas through whom the voice often comes, his growing appreciation of beauty and hearing God’s voice as he took up art, and the distinguishing character of God’s voice and how it comes.

No two lives are alike, no two paths the same. Yet, at least for me, listening to those who have been listening to the Voice of the Master is a rich source of wisdom. Such is this book by Leighton Ford; not a substitute for listening to the only Voice who can lead us safe home, but as sage counsel for how to recognize the only true Voice from the many competing for our attention.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Southern Park Mall

Southern_Park_Mall,_Boardman

Southern Park Mall, viewed from the north. By Nyttend – Own work, Public Domain, via Wikipedia

One of the major national newspapers (with a paywall, unfortunately) ran an article yesterday on the death of shopping malls. It is undeniable that many malls have struggled with challenges. The major mall near our home when we lived in Cleveland was Randall Park Mall. It has been razed and converted to an Amazon distribution center. When we came to Columbus, City Center Mall in downtown Columbus was the showpiece of the city. Incidents with teen gangs and rising vacancies and the closure of the major local department store anchor led to closure and eventual razing of this mall as well. The area has been converted to upscale downtown apartments and a performance space, which might be a net gain for the city.

Southern Park Mall was the place we went to hang out as teens and on dates. We all flocked to it when it opened in 1970. There was room, with free parking for 6300 cars, unlike downtown stores. At that time, it occupied over 1,100,000 square feet, expanding further when Horne’s was added as a fourth anchor store, joining Penney’s, Strouss’s (with its second floor pavilion style restaurant) and Sears. Both Sears and Penney’s had exterior auto centers. In all, the mall had over 100 stores as well as movie theaters. The mall was built near the location of the historic Southern Park Race Track, hence the name. It was built by the Edward J. DeBartolo Company, whose offices were just down the street.

Some of my Southern Park memories: Standing in line to see The Poseidon Adventure, for which Youngstown native Maureen McGovern sang the theme song (“There’s Got to Be a Morning After”); going to Spencer Gifts for girl friend gifts and posters; using my Higbee’s employee discount at The Loft and at Burrows; visiting the first store I ever went to dedicated to selling books, Walden’s; and in later years, taking my mother-in-law to do her Christmas shopping, which always involved a stop at the Roy Rogers Restaurant, which she loved. Before we were married, my wife worked for a time at J.C. Penney. We still have items in our home she bought there.

Eventually Strouss became Kauffman’s, and finally Macy’s. Horne’s became Dillard’s. In 1997, the DeBartolo Corporation merged with the Simon Property Group, and they invested in $19 million in improvements, including a foodcourt and a seven-screen theater complex. In 2014, the Simon Property Group sold the mall to Washington Prime Group, a spin-off company. In July 2018, Sears closed its store, part of a national closure of stores. Dillard’s announced its closure early in 2019.

No plans have been announced yet for the former Dillard’s space. I learned that the Sears store is being torn down and the space is being converted to what is being called DeBartolo Common, which will include stores making up the new exterior wall of the mall, athletic fields, a green space, and a bandstand intended to make this a community gathering place for Boardman and the great Youngstown community. This reflects a national trend for malls that survive, according to a Forbes article that suggests that younger consumers are more interested in spending their money on experiences rather than material things. According to The Business Journal, among tenants being considered are a fitness facility and an indoor golf facility connected to a restaurant.

It is interesting to see how these things go in cycles. The advent of malls fifty years ago were the sign that the days of downtown shopping were numbered. Now, as malls struggle to address safety issues posed by everything from teen gangs to gun violence, and to compete against online sellers, some are dying and some are reinventing themselves. Southern Park Mall (as well as Eastwood Mall) has so far survived and appears to be reinventing itself. And looking on a store map, I see that Penney’s, where my wife worked, and Spencer’s, where I bought gifts and posters, both live on. I hope that is a good sign for the rest of the mall. To good Black Friday and holiday sales and better days to come!

The Month in Reviews: November 2019

Frederick Douglass

I finished and reviewed fewer books this month than usual due to work-related responsibilities. But there were some incredible books that more than made up in quality for any lack in quantity. A new edition of Philip Brand’s Fearfully and Wonderfully left me in awe with the wonder and intricacies of both the human body and the body of Christ. The Gospel According to Eve and Participating in Christ were original and insightful theological works. I read Grace Will Lead Us Home to prepare for a panel discussion of the movie Emanuel and was both moved by the wonder and power of forgiveness, and saddened and challenged with the long road that remains to eradicate white supremacism and racism in American society. Starship Troopers was a fun throwback to my late teen years when I was reading a lot of Robert A. Heinlein. Somehow I missed this one. I finished the month with a historical fiction work by an African author on the attendants who carried David Livingstone’s body over 1500 miles, a heroic journey against the backdrop of encroaching western colonialism.

bookmarked

Bookmarked: Reading My Way from Hollywood to BrooklynWendy W. Fairey. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2015. A literature professor who is the daughter of a famous Hollywood columnist writes a memoir interweaving her life with significant books and characters. Review

Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the SpiritChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt (edited by Wolfgang J. Bittner, translated by Ruth Rhenius, Simeon Zahl, Miriam Mathis, and Christian T. Collins Winn. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. A reflection on the ministry of Johann Christoph Blumhardt by his son, identifying both the continuity, and divergence of their convictions. Review

Yancey

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A new edition combining two classic works exploring both the wonders of the human anatomy, the value and dignity of every human being, and parallels with the functioning of the body of Christ. Review

the gospel according to eve

The Gospel According to EveAmanda W. Benckhuysen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A history of women who have written on Genesis 1-3 since the fourth century, treating their worth, education, their roles as wives and mothers, whether they may teach and preach, and as advocates of social reforms. Review

Notre Dame

Faith and Science at Notre DameJohn P. Slattery. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2019. A study of the life of Catholic priest and science professor at Notre Dame, and his clash with the Vatican over his writing on evolution. Review

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomDavid W. Blight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. Perhaps the definitive biography of this escaped slave who became one of the most distinguished orators and writers in nineteenth century America as he for abolition and Reconstruction and civil rights for Blacks. Review

grace will lead us home

Grace Will Lead Us HomeJennifer Berry Hawes. New York: St. Martins Press, 2019. An account of the massacre of nine people at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston by Dylann Roof, and the responses of survivors and surviving families, notably the forgiveness offered, and the impact on the families, the church, and the Charleston community. Review

Participating in Christ

Participating in ChristMichael J. Gorman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. A discussion of what it means to be “in” Christ, or to participate in Christ, drawing from the Pauline letters, and particularly what this means for living a cross-shaped and resurrection-infused life by which one becomes increasingly like Christ and God. Review

forgiving my father

Forgiving My Father, Forgiving MyselfRuth Graham with Cindy Lambert. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Through both personal narrative and biblical teaching, explores the power of forgiveness to bring freedom from bitterness, transforming our lives, and in at least some cases, our relationships. Review

Starship Troopers

Starship TroopersRobert A. Heinlein. New York: Ace, 2006 (originally published in 1959). Juan “Johnny” Rico’s narrative of training and fighting in the Mobile Infantry during the Terran Wars with the Pseudo-Arachnids (“Bugs”) set 700 years in the future. Review

mayflower pilgrims

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable, Derek Wilson. London: SPCK Publishing, 2019. A historical account of the movements and political developments that shaped the composition of the 102 who made the voyage on the Mayflower. Review

out of darkness

Out of Darkness, Shining LightPetina Gappah. New York: Scribners, 2019. A historical fiction narrative, told in two voices, of the attendants of Dr. David Livingstone, who with a large company carried the body of Livingstone from Chitambo, where he died, to Zanzibar, a journey of over 1500 miles and 285 days. Review

Best of the Month: The best of many good books this month was David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Blight both helps us hear Douglass’s voice, and takes the measure of his indomitable character–a man who fought for the freedom and rights of blacks until he collapsed on the way out of his home to give a speech.

Quote of the Month: Wendy W. Fairey in Bookmarked: Reading My Way From Hollywood to Brooklyn, takes a novel approach to reflecting on her reading life, exploring the narrative of her life through the narratives of the books she read along the way:

“I want to write of the private stories that lie behind our reading of books, taking my own trajectory through English literature as the history I know best but proposing a way of thinking about literature that I believe is every reader’s process. We bring ourselves with all our aspirations and wounds, affinities and aversions, insights and confusions to the books we read, and our experience shapes our response.”

Current Reads and Upcoming Reviews: I first heard Leighton Ford speak as an evangelist in Youngstown, Ohio in the mid-1970’s. In later years, I saw a shift in focus in his life, particularly after the death of his son, Sandy, to a focus on mentoring young leadets, and writing increasingly on the disciplines of attending to God. In A Life of Listening he offers a memoir that traces the inner journey that was reflected in the changes I had observed–a wonderful book! The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left traces the fascinating career of Norman Lear and his attempts to establish substantive conversations reflecting a progressive religious position, both in his shows like All in the Family and in People for the American Way, and his failure to engage his ideological opposition, the religious right. Divine Impassibility explores four views on the passibility or impassibility of God, that is whether human actions can affect God or whether God is unchanging. My initial impression is that I find myself wondering whether some long-established paradigms constrain all these views from coming to a satisfying explanation of the biblical data. I don’t have a better one, which disposes me to be even more intrigued with the discussion between proponents of each view.

I’ve just begun George Santayana’s classic The Sense of Beauty, an exploration of aesthetics that begins with our perceptions of beauty rather than a grand theory of “why beauty.” I’m also reading a fascinating galley by W. Joshua Swamidass on The Genealogical Adam and Eve, which proposes a way to affirm a scientific understanding of evolution, the creation of Adam and Eve de novo as historic figures, and the mathematical probability of all of us being genealogical, if not genetic, descendants of this Adam and Eve. The book releases this month and has been endorsed by Nathan Lents, a popular biology professor, writer, and atheist

I soon hope to pick up Fleming Rutledge’s Advent. Reading The Crucifixion during Lent was a wonderful experience of writing that was theologically profound and devotionally rich. I look forward to seeing if Advent will have the same effect as I prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus. I hope amid your holiday preparations, whether religious or not, that you are able to curl up with a book that is enriching for you. If you do, I’d love to hear about it!

Review: Out of Darkness, Shining Light

out of darkness

Out of Darkness, Shining Light, Petina Gappah. New York: Scribners, 2019.

Summary: A historical fiction narrative, told in two voices, of the attendants of Dr. David Livingstone, who with a large company carried the body of Livingstone from Chitambo, where he died, to Zanzibar, a journey of over 1500 miles and 285 days.

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer who offers us an African perspective on the last journey of Dr. David Livingstone, through the eyes and words of two of his attendants, part of the group that carried his body 1500 miles so that it might be returned to Livingstone’s people.

The story is told through Halima, who Livingstone had purchased in a slave market, assigned as a “travel wife” of Amoda, the leader of the party, with the promise of her manumission at the end of the journey, and of Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave trained in a mission school in India for mission work.

I suspect most people will much prefer the voice of Halima. She is practical and resilient and discerning in her insights into the character of others. She is a survivor with a sharp tongue. She reads the flighty character of Ntaoéka and the shifty and deceitful character of Chirango. When the men decide to transport the body of Livingstone back to Zanzibar, she is the one who figures out how to preserve his body by drying it in the sun, first removing the viscera, including the heart, which is buried in Chitambo.

Wainwright has the insufferable air of a recent convert, sanctimonious and judgmental of others, but, beyond his judgments, one who gave a meticulous account of the actual journey. His account is the longer of the two, covering the actual journey. In the process, we see his own hypocrisy, as he succumbs to Ntaoéka’s charms, and falls under the power of Chirango, who promises to “protect” their secret.

The narrative of returning this body, something unheard of, and questionable to some in the party, both accentuates the flaws of individuals, including murderous ones, as well as the resilience and determination of those who make this journey. While these aspects are in the foreground in much of the novel, they exist against the background of the slave trade, which determined a much longer route taken to the coast, one nevertheless lined with the bodies of dead slaves abandoned, tied to trees. There is also the quixotic quest of Livingstone for the source of the Nile, unsuccessful but paving the way for missionaries and then the colonial powers who sent them. This is the Livingstone who is an abolitionist, and yet subjugates Africans to his quest, including the buying of slave women to be “travel wives.” Then there are the missionaries who later on refuse to let Jacob Wainwright, who has converted a number of Africans, be any more than a lowly assistant.

Gappah spent more than ten years researching this work and provides a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, unusual for historical fiction. She offers a narrative at once riveting as a chronicle of a heroic journey of sacrifice, and revelatory, as an account of the impact upon Africans of the coming, in succession of the slave trader, the explorer, the missionary and the colonial interests. Ironically, in this instance, the Africans who embark on this heroic journey, for all their faults, show greater respect for the person and the faith of Livingstone than is shown for their persons and their faith by those who would convert and conquer them.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Mayflower Pilgrims

mayflower pilgrims

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable, Derek Wilson. London: SPCK Publishing, 2019.

Summary: A historical account of the movements and political developments that shaped the composition of the 102 who made the voyage on the Mayflower.

There is a kind of mythology that has developed around the passengers on the Mayflower who settled in Plymouthostensibly on a quest for religious freedom. Derek Wilson, in this new book, traces the separatist movements and the political conditions that shaped them in the century before this voyage. What emerges is a far more complex account than is often given of a persecuted minority who were paragons of Christian virtue seeking religious freedom. It wasn’t quite that simple.

The broad strokes of this narrative go back to Henry VIII and the formation of the Church of England, and the succeeding reigns down to James I. One one side there is the Catholic reaction, and brief ascendancy during the reign of Queen Mary I. On the other, and especially during the reign of Elizabeth I onward, there was the pressure from the separatists who did not believe the church went far enough.

Wilson traces these reigns and movements in both moderate and more radical forms down to the time of the Mayflower Pilgrims, thirty-seven of which were from a particularly vigorous separatist group, many having taken shelter in Leiden in the Netherlands. The remainder of the 102 consisted of everything from indentured servants, some of which were children, to others simply seeking a new start in the New World and economic opportunity. Needless to say, they did not all share the vision of a new Christian commonwealth, free from interference from the crown.

The striking thing about this book is that only about the last sixty pages are about the group of people from which the Mayflower passengers were drawn. The rest chronicles the separatist movements in England and on the continent that preceded them. It shows the Pilgrims as part of a larger movement seeking an idealized form of Christianity. It also shows the folly of this vision, including the compromises the planners of the voyage made, and the reality that they ended up replicating the very wrongs, including intolerance, from which they fled. The wonder is that it all survived.

Wilson tries to cover all these movements in parallel, interwoven accounts. He admits that “[t]his may make for a rather ‘jerky’ narrative,” which I felt to be the case. It felt like an incessant flow of names, places, dates, and events that jumped back and forth chronologically, and it was difficult to trace how it was connected. The book ends with the voyage and we don’t learn anything new about the Plymouth settlers after they arrive.

If you are looking for a work that traces the historical antecedents of the Plymouth settlers, this offers plenty of material. However, the title and even the cover image may be deceiving. We learn relatively little about the pilgrims, and nothing of their efforts and challenges in the New World.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.